20 November, 2017 09:07

Six Reasons “Why Not Everybody Must Serve in the Army”

By Albert Hayrapetyan

Why the Amended Law on Conscription of the Republic of Armenia is Inherently Flawed?

“Everybody must serve in the army!” is the cliché of all those in favor of highly controversial amendments in “Law on Conscription of the Republic of Armenia” proposed by the Minister of Defense Vigen Sargsyan. From prima facie, the philosophy behind the law is equality (Égalité), one of the pillars of the famous slogan of French revolution, and a noble concept invoked by Mr. Sargsyan numerous times in the National Assembly and elsewhere. Expectedly, such amendments would trigger opposition, primarily among those students who are keen get right of deferment and continue their education. Hardly anyone would be surprised to see an excellent sophomore or junior student, reluctant to jeopardize his life in line of contact between Artsakh and Azerbaijan or in the military units of Tavush Marz of Armenia adjacent to Azerbaijan, but instead willing to continue his education in perfectly secure auditoria of Yerevan State University (YSU). Vigen Sargsyan, in all likelihood would label them “cowards”, “opportunists”, probably even “deserters” (as some people called the protesters without even knowing the meaning and the etymology of the word) and appeal the nationalistic sentiments of warring nation and using highly pathetic rhetoric would further bolster the legitimacy of the proposed amendments. Nevertheless, to his great surprise, the most truculent activists against the proposed amendments were those male students who already completed their military service (some of them, reportedly in the most dangerous places) as well as female students! The apparent leader of the protests Mr․ Davit Petrosyan, who did a hunger strike in one of the auditoria of the YSU along (with several other guys already completed their military service), not only served in the borderline, but also volunteered in short-run war with Azerbaijan, in April, 2016 also known as four-day war.

So, what’s wrong with the proposed amendments? Why there are detrimental for the future of our country and especially for the already moribund scientific field of Armenia? Below, I will try to challenge the egalitarian arguments frequently brought by Mr. Sargsyan and his team. Furthermore, I will try to substantiate that the adoption of the proposed amendments are fraught with a myriad of negative consequences for our country. 

1․ It is argued that some students consider MA and Ph.D. as a loophole to bypass the compulsory military service. Is it true? Well, even if it is true, the overall situation is not worsened. Imagine a young lad studying in his high school. Let’s assume that his primary (or maybe only) motivation to have excellent academic performance is linked with his desire to be exempted from compulsory military service. As the father of economics, Adam Smith told sometimes people with their egocentric actions might make society better off, improving the overall societal welfare even more than those who truly crave for that. In other words, personal ego is in the pivot of total societal gains. 

Imagine there is no right of deferment and the youngsters, ceteris paribus, would be less motivated to fare well in both school and tertiary level of education. This would unequivocally undermine the scientific potential of Armenia of future. More importantly, many youngsters vie with each other for handful places exempting from army, while those who don’t get those places join the army armed with knowledge. The potential of such youngsters might be well utilized in army in various forms, especially in knowledge-intensive domains such as cyber security. Those youngsters, ceteris paribus, would have joined the army with far fewer skills and far less knowledge had the institute of deferment (from military service) been abolished prior to their education in school/university. Nevertheless, a legitimate question might arise: should the “malice” of those prima facie opportunistic youngsters be counted? Vigen Sargsyan, Minister of Defense of Armenia, puts forward telic (derived from the word “teleological”) egalitarian arguments averring that everybody must serve”. First, let me state that Égalité is not an end with an intrinsic value. Rather it has instrumental value to preclude negative societal phenomena. Larry Tempkin, famous American philosopher, who got his Ph.D. from Princeton University, posited that equality is the highest moral and should be the ultimate goal. He was countered by his fellow-philosophers whose idea was the following: “ok, there are many who have just one eye. What about blinding all of us to end up ourselves in complete equality?” This “levelling down” argument was used by many philosophers, namely Darek Parfit, who noted that priorities has to be counted first of all. Coming back to military topic and malice, we have to state that intentions matter even less from the viewpoint of realpolitik. One of the famous arguments of the realists (firstly used by Hans Joachim Morgenthau), putting in a nutshell, is the following: “Neville Chamberlain was craving for peace but got war, while Winston Churchill, more hawkish and much less pacifist got peace”.  To crown, we saw that reforms of Mr. Sargsyan predicated upon telic egalitarian logic and arguments are difficult to defend since they 1. In all likelihood would founder the motivation among the youngsters to study, 2. They undermine the basis of future knowledge-based society. Therefore, Mr. Sargsyan has to ask himself which is the priority of our state rather than screaming about his own understanding of Égalité.

2. While pointing out the “Égalité” argument, Mr. Sargsyan overlooks an important issue – equal opportunities for different generations! Here a legitimate question might arise: why someone who defended his Ph.D. in 2017 is exempted from military service, while those born a few years later are bereft of such opportunity?  What’s the logic? What’s the rationale? Why let’s say hypothetical guy named Ashot who was born in 2000 should be disadvantaged vis-à-vis another guy, Karen, who was born in 1992? Égalité also implies equal opportunities, doesn’t it? If Égalité is the most noble among all the noble causes, then why not to amend the relevant constitutional clause which stipulates that further tightening of the sanctions shall not be applied retrospectively, and send to army all those who defended Ph.D. from 1992 onwards indiscriminately? What’s the logic to maintain the institute of deferment till 2020? Such uncorroborated arguments of Mr. Sargsyan leave room to speculate that the number of soldiers in Armenian army plummeted sharply and maximum 140 Ph.D. students annually exempted from military service for academic reasons is a great necessity (almost a sine qua non) for Armenian army which has to countervail the ever-growing army of Azerbaijan!!! Let’s think about exulting Azerbaijani media that gloats upon us. If this is the true reason behind the legislative amendments proposed by Mr. Sargsyan, then he, putting euphemistically and in the most diplomatic way possible, disguises the reality.

3. Taking brilliant physicist or chemist to army would be detrimental to army itself as their untapped potential can be used in military-industrial complex. Not to say about the scientific laboratories operating in YSU, for instance. Reportedly, the driving force in YSU laboratory of physics are male students. It is important to recall that great military achievements were proceeded by revolutionary inventions in science (like the gunpowder). Hence, government not only must give the right of deferment from military to those students studying natural sciences, but also finance their Ph.D. research projects in accordance with its needs and priorities. For instance, Ph.D. student in physics might be offered to write a thesis on a topic which is priority for the government. He shall get not only right of deferment, but also remunerations not less than those officials who participate in «Պատիվ ունեմ» program.  Last, but not the least, military service might have fatal effects for the careers of ballet dancers and pianists. In case of outstanding sportsmen, it would be challenging to reach pre-military fitness.

4. No juxtaposition with Israeli army is justified. To start with, one has to mention that Israel is second to none in R&D-to-GDP index in the world - 4.27% (in Armenia the mentioned index was 0.25 in 2015). Furthermore, the philosophy of Israeli army is unique, while in Armenian army is dominated by semi-criminal ideology and machismo. Needless to prove that Israel won 1967 six-day war against five Arab countries not because it had nearly 140 more soldiers than its adversaries in aggregate. Israeli has strong army not because of compulsory military service or quantity of soldiers, but due to the fact that army is backed by R&D field which is under governmental patronage. Furthermore, army enables IT specialist to enhance his/her skills and faculties. It will take significant time to introduce such mechanisms in Armenia!

Without any intention to transfer the discussion on ad hominem level let’s state the following fact too. Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu served in Army. His brother, Jonathan Netanyahu, was the only martyr during counter-terrorist operation in Entebbe, Uganda where Israeli soldiers were liberating the captive Jewish passengers. In contrast, neither Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, nor his son completed military service in Armenian army reportedly. Moreover, bulk of the officials from the ruling “Republican” party who justify this legislative amendments, have not served even a single day in the army either. This undermines people’s trust to army making them believe that solvent people, let alone the oligarchs, will exempt their sons from military services by ascribing the latter various diseases.

5. Mr. Sargsyan once mentioned that only 15% of those who gets deferment in Bachelor joins the army. The situation is really thought-provoking having regard that deferment places for graduate education are twice as less as those for undergraduate education, and only very small fraction of those who gets right of deferment from military service for his undergraduate studies defends Ph.D., thus getting a permanent exception. The “elephant in the room” is the bribery in the medical field. The overall pattern for solvent people with malice is unlikely to be changed as a corollary of this legislative amendment since the corruption risks would be shifted from educational field to medical. Hence, instead of amputating the “curable leg” Minister of Defense along with the Minister of Education had better introduce concrete benchmarks to gauge the merit. The followings are suggestion for benchmarks for Ph.D. applicant willing to get right for deferment: a. enhancement of minimum necessary TOEFL score, b. demanding at least one article in highly reputable Scopus-indexed journal, 3. Introduction of minimum GPA requirement of 90% in graduate level; if GPA is less than 85% in undergraduate level, then 95% for graduate level shall be sought. Based on this criteria an index shall be developed simple enough for the general public to grasp. Undoubtedly, suggested criteria are amenable to discussions and further modifications and, if necessary further tightening.

And finally cultural-mental issues. It is not a secret that outstanding students, especially coming from natural science field are mostly too studious and too introvert to be integrated in army environment where as it is mentioned above machismo is dominated. In such environment, educated people are labelled as “nerds” (if not girlish), be constantly bullied thus becoming an easy target for those inspired with the alleged righteousness and nobility of the mores of criminal subculture. The oppressed smart guy, imbued with negative feelings not only towards the army, but also towards the country, will yearn leave Armenia once military service is completed. Beyond any doubt, even a single case of brain drain is more luxury for Armenia, the third most militarized country in the world than 140 Ph.D. students not serving in the army. Therefore, internal reforms of the army and change of overall dominating environment is necessary for those smart guys who did not get military deferment not to be disappointed with our state and our army in particular. This is the best itinerary to effectuate «ազգ-բանակ» idea.

In practice, legal amendment like any kind of social innovation might have some controversial aspects and sometimes it is hard to evaluate whether the pros outweigh over the cons or vice versa. As it is shown above, elimination of deferment right from military service and the further exemption from military of about 140 Doctoral students, who annually defend Ph.D.  is difficult to justify on any ground. The real raison d'être of the amended law is Mr. Vigen Sargsyan and his aspiration to create a self-image of “strong, military guy, uncompromising Defence Minister of warring country”. His publicly demonstrated stubbornness is emanated from his misperception that any compromise from his side is a sign of weakness and tantamount to defeat. This was evident during the well-covered meeting of the representatives of activists with Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, where Sargsyan sitting next to Karapetyan was yearning to show that he is the “alpha male” around the round table. The abovementioned glitches of the amended law must be properly addressed. Vigen Sargsyan and likeminded people must finally realize that in the 21st century brain matters not the muscles!!!

Why the Amended Law on Conscription of the Republic of Armenia is Inherently Flawed?

Albert Hayrapetyan is Ph.D. in Economics, MA from American University of Armenia, MA student in College of Europe, Warsaw,

Photo by Davit Hakobyan